Bishop's Column | June 2019

Bishop's Column | June 2019

Synod on Youth

Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment

Bishop A. Elias Zaidan


This past October, I had the unique privilege of being asked by our Patriarch and Synod to be one of the Maronite Bishops to attend the Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. The Synod met throughout the month of October in small groups and in general session. I cherished that experience since it gave me an opportunity to meet and interact with bishops and representatives from different parts of the world.   

On March 25, 2019, the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, released his Apostolic Exhortation entitled “Christus Vivit,” Latin for “Christ Lives.”  In this document, with its nine chapters and 299 paragraphs, the Holy Father summarized the results of the synod and laid out a vision forward.

In the document “Christ Lives,” Pope Francis looks at the issue of young people in the Church in light of the Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, from the life of Jesus, noting that He [Jesus] is “ever young.” Finally, the Pope looks at the life and experience of the Church over many centuries. Quoting from the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis notes, “Enriched by a long and living history, and advancing towards human perfection in time and the ultimate destinies of history and of life, the Church is the real youth of the world.” (Closing of the Council, December 8, 1965, Message to Young Men and Women)

From within the Church, Pope Francis cites another example for us: the Blessed Mother, “Mary shines forth. She is the supreme model for a youthful Church that seeks to follow Christ with enthusiasm and docility.” The Holy Father also makes note of many other young saints who can serve as models to us as well. (Par. 43, 49-62)

Regarding our youth, we are called to always be sensitive to their needs and open to responding to them. An important observation made by Pope Francis is that we should not just consider the young as the “future” of the Church, but that they are also the “now” as he says.  They have things to offer to the Church, but often need the opportunity to be heard.  

Of course, the environment and the culture in which we all live impacts the young in many significant ways. Of particular note, are the many crises and scandals that confront them, the digital milieu of their lives, consumerism, historic migration issues, and the advances in scientific capabilities that may not always be a positive contribution to human development.

Pope Francis offers the young (and all of us) “a way out” of problems that confront us. His answer is, as it should be, Jesus. He calls us to depend more deeply on God, noting, “You can become what God your Creator knows you are, if only you realize that you are called to something greater.” (Par. 107)

The Pope calls on the young to move out into the world and bring the love of Christ to all, young, old, ill, rich and poor alike. In a sense, he asks them to be missionaries of the Gospel in the environment in which they find themselves.  

Of course, we cannot lose sight that the young do need our guidance and the wisdom that sometimes only comes with age. The Holy Father advises the young to, “Make the most of these years of your youth. Don’t observe life from a balcony. Don’t confuse happiness with an armchair, or live your life behind a screen. Whatever you do, do not become the sorry sight of an abandoned vehicle! Don’t be parked cars, but dream freely and make good decisions. And then in reference to living a full life, he tells them “…don’t take early retirement.” {Par. 143} The Pope is, of course, urging the young to live a life in imitation of Christ. In paragraph 108, the Holy Father also cautions the young about the implications of such a commitment. He warns them, “You need to realize one basic truth: being young is not only about pursuing fleeting pleasures and superficial achievements. If the years of your youth are to serve their purpose in life, they must be a time of generous commitment, whole-hearted dedication, and sacrifices that are difficult but ultimately fruitful.”

But the Holy Father also reminds us all that the young can truly make a contribution to the Church. He notes, “Young people can offer the Church the beauty of youth by renewing her ability to ‘rejoice with new beginnings, to give unreservedly of herself, to be renewed and to set out for ever greater accomplishments.’” (Par. 37)

But the Holy Father also makes recommendations to the leaders of the Church, and in the parishes. He highlights “outreach” and “growth.” “Outreach” to the young by pastors and their collaborators; “growth” once we have reached out to them—helping them to grow into the Faith. They must see in us love of God and love of one another.  

In short, the Holy Father reminds us of many of the means to attract the young that have been successful over the years: sports and the arts, prayer experiences, service opportunities and experiences of nature—God’s creation.

A theme found often in the writings and statements of the Holy Father is that of “accompaniment” by adults and “openness” to all who come to us. These, I think, are important parts of the recommendations made by the Pope.

Pope Francis calls the young to seek out their vocation in life. Realizing that most will follow the path of work, marriage and family, he also asks to them to consider another option stating, “In discerning your vocation, do not dismiss the possibility of devoting yourself to God in the priesthood, the religious life, or in other forms of consecration. Why not?” (Par. 131) I can say the same to our own youth and to their parents as well, “Why not?”

In reflecting on our own response to this Synod and the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation, I propose to all the Maronite faithful of our Eparchies the following points:


To our Youth:

  • Be proud of your Faith and of your Heritage.

  • Be involved, seek, ask questions; you have the right to find the answers.

  • Go deeper into your Faith and invite your friends to join with you; reach out to them as a true follower of the Lord

  • Bring Christ into your daily life through prayer—no matter how simple and by your actions—no matter how insignificant you may think they are.


To Parents:

  • Be models of faith to your young people.

  • As you work hard to provide for them a good future, invest in their religious education and spiritual growth as well.

  • Encourage them to come to Church and to be involved in the life of the parish.


To Pastors, Youth Counselors, and Advisors:

  • Make ministry to the youth of your parish a priority.

  • Listen to them, make efforts to understand them, support and guide them as you accompany them in their spiritual journey in life.

  • Plan activities that are meaningful to them. Bring the youth together.


I would like to conclude my message to you with the closing paragraph of Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation addressed to the young: 

Dear young people, my joyful hope is to see you keep running the race before you, outstripping all those who are slow or fearful. Keep running, attracted by the face of Christ, whom we love so much, whom we adore in the Holy Eucharist and acknowledge in the flesh of our suffering brothers and sisters. May the Holy Spirit urge you on as you run this race. The Church needs your momentum, your intuitions, your faith. We need them! And when you arrive where we have not yet reached, have the patience to wait for us. (Par. 299)